The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry, By S. Joshua Swamidass alt

The Genealogical Adam and Eve

The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry

by S. Joshua Swamidass

The Genealogical Adam and Eve
  • Length: 264 pages
  • Published: December 10, 2019
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 6505
  • ISBN: 9780830865055

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Evolutionary science teaches that humans arose as a population, sharing common ancestors with other animals. Most readers of the book of Genesis in the past understood all humans descended from Adam and Eve, a couple specially created by God. These two teachings seem contradictory, but is that necessarily so? In the fractured conversation of human origins, can new insight guide us to solid ground in both science and theology?

In The Genealogical Adam and Eve, S. Joshua Swamidass tests a scientific hypothesis: What if the traditional account is somehow true, with the origins of Adam and Eve taking place alongside evolution? Building on well-established but overlooked science, Swamidass explains how it's possible for Adam and Eve to be rightly identified as the ancestors of everyone. His analysis opens up new possibilities for understanding Adam and Eve, consistent both with current scientific consensus and with traditional readings of Scripture. These new possibilities open a conversation about what it means to be human.

In this book, Swamidass

  • untangles several misunderstandings about the words human and ancestry, in both science and theology
  • explains how genetic and genealogical ancestry are different, and how universal genealogical ancestry creates a new opportunity for rapprochement
  • explores implications of genealogical ancestry for the theology of the image of God, the fall, and people "outside the garden"

Some think Adam and Eve are a myth. Some think evolution is a myth. Either way, the best available science opens up space to engage larger questions together. In this bold exploration, Swamidass charts a new way forward for peace between mainstream science and the Christian faith.

"This book would be fascinating for its scientific content alone, establishing the surprisingly high probability of all human beings alive having common ancestral parents akin to the biblical Adam and Eve. But it also offers biblical, theological, and philosophical subtlety and precision, all saturated with hermeneutical charity on questions too often marked by polemics and hostility. It takes the reader on an intellectual adventure and reanimates our pursuit of one of the most profound human questions: Can sacred and natural history combine to tell us something essential about who we are and why we are here? I believe we are at an inflection point where the scientific plausibility of the core convictions of biblical faith is increasing after centuries of skepticism. This book may well be remembered as one of the turning points in that story."

Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

"As a secular scientist, I was seriously skeptical of this book. Nevertheless, Swamidass has ably shown that the current evidence in genetics and ancestry is compatible with a recently de novo–created couple as among our universal common ancestors who then interbred with the rest of humanity that descended through the established evolutionary processes. In doing so, Swamidass aims to bridge a centuries-old divide between faith and science. In a world at war with itself, the need for such common ground is most urgent."

Nathan H. Lents, professor of biology, John Jay College, CUNY, and author of Human Errors

"I am one of the many scientists who have maintained that the existence of Adam and Eve as ancestors of all people on earth is incompatible with the scientific data. In this book, Joshua Swamidass effectively demonstrates that people like me, stuck in a specific genetic paradigm, were wrong. Ironically, I first learned the key calculation from Richard Dawkins, who wrote fifteen years ago in The Ancestor's Tale, 'I don't know about you, but I find these dates [for the last common ancestor] astonishingly recent.' I failed to appreciate the biblical ramifications of this fact. In writing this book, Swamidass removes our blinders. In a clearly written and highly accessible style, he shows how a traditional understanding of the Genesis narrative, including the sudden creation of Adam and Eve, is fully compatible with science. Creation through the evolutionary process is still central to the story, but the existence of two individuals—ancestors of us all—is now freed from what seemed like scientific inconsistency and placed, once again, purely into the realm of theology where it belongs."

Darrel R. Falk, professor of biology emeritus, Point Loma Nazarene University

"In Judaism there is a blessing for almost everything. There is a blessing one should say upon encountering a religious scholar and a different blessing for encountering a secular scholar, as both types of scholarship are valued. In this book Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass earns both blessings. Dr. Swamidass is a scientist by profession and a devout Christian who thinks deeply about theological questions. He uses cutting-edge theory from population genetics concerning the difference between genealogical ancestors versus genetic ancestors (a small subset of the former) and applies it accurately and with rigorous scientific logic to the theological issues surrounding the biblical account of Adam and Eve. Many theological issues arise from Adam and Eve, such as race and racism, and Dr. Swamidass approaches these issues in a manner that values and incorporates both science and religion. Books dealing with science and religion often emphasize conflicts while others present them as non-overlapping methods of knowledge that are largely irrelevant to one another. Dr. Swamidass shows in this book how science and religion are both valuable methods of scholarship that can display a positive synergism in which neither discipline has to retreat from its fundamental principles in order to deepen our insight into the science/religion interface. Both scientists and people of faith should read this book to learn that conflict and irrelevancy are not the only ways in which science and religion can interact."

Alan R. Templeton, Charles Rebstock Professor Emeritus of Biology and Statistical Genomics, Washington University in St. Louis, and Institute of Evolution and Department of Evolutionary and Environmental Biology, University of Haifa, Israel

"This is one of those rare books that changes the conversation. With equal parts candor, humility, passion, and precision, Swamidass engages an incredibly controversial topic at the junction of biology and theology: the origin of human beings. Through the effective use of two key distinctions—the difference between genealogical and genetic ancestry, and the multiple meanings of 'human' across divergent areas of inquiry—he reorients and expands the space of possibilities while maintaining faithfulness and rigor with respect to traditional exegesis and contemporary scientific knowledge. The book's primary virtue is not that it offers the strongest version of a particular position or provides answers to every question. Instead, its strength lies in how Swamidass demonstrates that there is more to talk about in conceptualizing what counts as a position or an answer in the first place, and that the tenor of those conversations should be peaceful rather than fractious. A definitive achievement. Tolle lege."

Alan C. Love, professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota

"Swamidass proposes a genealogical Adam as a way to help resolve conflict among the competing creation and evolution models for human origins. He is to be commended for exhorting us all to 'find that better way together' to resolve our differences with patience and humility."

Hugh Ross, president and founder of Reasons to Believe, astronomer, pastor, and author

"The Genealogical Adam and Eve is a meticulously researched, fascinating, and timely book. I am personally grateful to Dr. Swamidass for his honest and thoughtful approach to the question of the historical Adam. Whether we agree or disagree with him on evolution or Adam and Eve, everyone can deeply appreciate the spirit in which he writes this book. It is a model for how to approach hard questions at the intersection of science and faith. May this book get the wide readership it deserves."

Sean McDowell, professor of apologetics, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

"Many Christians struggle with the challenge of mainstream science, especially on human origins. This book changes the game. The focus on genetic ancestry distracted us from genealogical ancestry. Scripture does not speak of genetics, but it does emphasize genealogy, presenting Adam as the genealogical ancestor of the human race. In terms that nonscientists can understand, Swamidass shows how scientific findings in genetics are entirely compatible with this biblical claim. The Genealogical Adam and Eve is creating a new conversation about human origins, and it is essential reading for everyone at the intersection of science and faith."

Ken Keathley, senior professor of theology, director of the Bush Center for Faith and Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

"Although Dr. Swamidass and I disagree over the data and reach different conclusions about hominid evolution and the creation of humanity, The Genealogical Adam and Eve is a critical, timely, and beneficial contribution that will facilitate science/faith dialogue and help many see that faithful biblical interpretations do not conflict with evolutionary science. Everyone who thinks science and Christian faith must necessarily be at odds should read Swamidass's work with an open mind. I value and applaud Swamidass's contribution and heart in bringing an informed, scholarly understanding and voice to bear on these extremely important issues."

Anjeanette "AJ" Roberts, molecular biologist/research scholar at Reasons to Believe

"It is unusual to find a professional scientist with a keen interest in theology, but Joshua Swamidass, a computational biologist, is just such a person. The Genealogical Adam and Eve is a scientifically informed and biblically engaged study of human origins. Many will find shocking its claims concerning universal common ancestors in the relatively recent past. Agree or disagree, the reader will find this to be a stimulating and thought-provoking book."

William Lane Craig, professor of philosophy, Talbot School of Theology and Houston Baptist University

"Scientific progress of many sorts, such as our growing understanding of the human genome, surfaces a myriad of challenging questions about the human condition and our origins. Around these questions, this book invites a better conversation. For both scientific and theological communities, this book offers common language and an inviting narrative, establishing a foundation for mutual understanding and respect. In doing so, Swamidass demonstrates a compelling vision of meaningful and constructive dialogue and what this dialogue can achieve. Here—in a multifaceted conversation between faith, science, and our shared experience—we can engage grand questions together. Trust can grow and, with it, new avenues for discovery might arise."

Philip R. O. Payne, professor and director of the Institute for Informatics, Washington University School of Medicine

"A vital conversation unfolds between science and religion, engaging theologically motivated questions without letting theology impose itself on science. The conversation is grounded, but Swamidass takes us to a place of imagination and creativity—the intellectual wonder where many of us first learned of dinosaurs or first contemplated the meaning of life. The book starts with origins, but it gathers us all around the grand question: What does it mean to be human?"

Jeff Mallinson, professor of theology and philosophy at Concordia University, Irvine

"Professor Swamidass first introduced me to his very insightful idea of a genealogical Adam and Eve in a fascinating presentation at the American Scientific Affiliation annual meeting in 2017. His seminal distinction between a genealogical Adam and Eve and a genetic Adam and Eve is a paradigm pregnant with possibilities for reconciling evolutionary genetics with a historical Adam and Eve. It may also provide hermeneutical resources for Genesis 4–5, which gives more than a subtle hint that there were hominoids outside the Garden of Eden who were sufficiently like Adam and Eve genetically that they could breed and be dangerous. I hope that The Genealogical Adam and Eve will stimulate some creative new insights that will provide fertile ground for conversations between people who had believed they had irreconcilable differences in the faith and science dialogue."

Walter L. Bradley, professor emeritus, Texas A&M University, and distinguished professor emeritus, Baylor University

"Dr. Swamidass's contribution is extremely significant, reshaping our understanding of the theological implications of evolution and population genetics. There is a recurring pattern in the history of science and religion. First, a scientific discovery and its seeming implications are treated as settled science and demands are made for a radical departure from recognizable Christian theology. Second, a sober corrective recognizes the legitimacy of the discovery but clarifies the real implications, and in so doing provides breathing room for real theological reflection, development, and genuine intellectual progress. Dr Swamidass, in this book, offers just such a sober corrective."

Clinton Ohlers, intellectual historian of science and religion, University of Hong Kong

"Certain theological views are well founded and fundamentally important to a well-grounded system of belief; it can be rationally responsible to maintain those views, even if, for the time being, the science seems to call them into question. I believe this is true of basic theological beliefs about the origin of humankind and of sin. These are too well connected to the kind of experiences that are universally accessible and all-but-universally recognized. Sometimes, if we wait, new light will come in the scientific thinking. And sometimes as well, someone with enough imagination will propose a workable scenario that helps us past the apparent hump. Dr. Swamidass has indeed provided an imaginative and creative way forward, promoting a truly 'peaceful science.' I am grateful for his work and commend it to you."

C. John "Jack" Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary

"Joshua Swamidass might not get a Nobel Prize in biology for The Genealogical Adam and Eve, but he should get a Nobel Peace Prize for his approach of kindness in trying to unite several disparate camps on the front lines of the origins debate. He masterfully takes the old and often-forgotten suggestion of a possible difference between the 'creation of man' events in chapter one vs. chapter two of Genesis, and he adds genetic legs. Being a computational geneticist, Swamidass has the expertise to assess the latest scientific data and compute that indeed, Adam and Eve could have been a single couple even in the last six thousand to ten thousand years and the progenitors of all human beings alive today, provided that the humanoids from chapter one of Genesis were breeding into the line from chapter two. Since I love the Bible and science, the reading was riveting. It is a delightful mixture of scholarship across disciplines, presented in an easy-to-access framework, and highly educational. I think all camps can walk away happy that they're right, in a way."

James Tour, Rice University


Part I: Fracture
1. Courage, Curiosity, Empathy

Part II: Ancestor
2. A Genealogical Hypothesis
3. Genetics Is Not Genealogy
4. Ancestors of Everyone Today
5. Genealogical Adams and Eves
6. The Mythology of Isolation
7. Direct and Miraculous Creation

Part III: Human
8. Humans in Science
9. Humans in Theology
10. The Error of Polygenesis
11. Humans of the Text

Part IV: Mystery
12. The Splintering of Traditions
13. Recovering Many Traditions Together
14. A Narrative Experiment
15. Falling into Exile
16. Justice, Mercy, and Ancestry
17. Ending at a Beginning

Part V: Crossroad
18. Tolerance, Humility, Patience
Appendix: Evidence and the Resurrection
General Index
Scripture Index


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S. Joshua Swamidass

S. Joshua Swamidass (MD, PhD, UC–Irvine) is a scientist, physician, and associate professor of laboratory and genomic medicine at Washington University in Saint Louis, where he uses artificial intelligence to explore science at the intersection of medicine, biology, and chemistry. He is a Veritas Forums speaker and blogs at Peaceful Science.